A knot fashioned out of two thin bands of yellow and white gold is the centrepiece of administrative executive Jojo Lin’s engagement ring, which has no gems and was bought on website Etsy for under $500.
While discussing her preferences for rings with her fiance, Ms Lin had decisively steered him away from buying a diamond. The couple also agreed they would “not spend a bomb” on their wedding bands.
“I think it’s not necessary for an engagement ring to have a diamond,” says the 25-year-old, who describes her ring as “simple yet unique” and “for everyday wear”.
She adds: “I’ve never understood why some people have the impression that how much a guy spends on an engagement ring represents how much the girl is worth in his eyes.” Her fiance, teaching assistant Bertrand Sim, 26, proposed in March last year. The couple will marry in July.
More couples here are eschewing the diamond for their engagement rings, choosing alternative centrepieces such as rubies, sapphires and pearls. This typically also means a lower price tag. A one-carat diamond, for instance, could easily cost more than $4,000. An equivalent-sized ruby would typically cost about half that sum.
American luxury jeweller Tiffany & Co, which has five outlets here, has been getting more inquiries for non-traditional engagement rings, such as plain bands, at its Singapore outlets, although it could not provide sales figures.
Jewellery chain Citigems has also noticed the trend. Its spokesman Sarah Sim says: “Millennials and young couples are becoming more adventurous when choosing their engagement rings.
“We see couples coming in looking for rings that are innovative and non-traditional, focusing more on the story and meaning behind the design and jewellery material.”
Singaporean designer Carolyn Kan, founder of jewellery label Carrie K, says that sales of nondiamond engagement rings in its bespoke line have gone up by 15 per cent over the past year.
Sapphire, ruby, emerald and aquamarine gem rings, she says, are most popular among the “small but growing number of people opting for non-diamond rings”.
Contemporary local jewellery brand Saught has also caught onto the trend. It started making bespoke engagement rings early last year. Its co-founder Pamela Yeo, 28, says: “More of our customers have been requesting engagement rings that are non-traditional, ethical and contemporary.”
Most of the label’s bespoke rings feature gemstones such as sapphires, tourmalines and garnets from traceable, ethical sources.
The trend was also thrust into the limelight last month, when an American couple’s engagement ring story went viral. The pair had bought a sterling silver and cubic zirconia ring set for about US$130 (S$190), prompting a snide remark from a sales associate about the low price tag. An account of the episode was put up on social media, sparkingconversation about expensive engagement rings and societal expectations.
Retail experts think the trend towards non-cookie-cutter engagement rings here is more about standing out than spending less.
Dr Lynda Wee, adjunct associate professor of marketing and international business at Nanyang Technological University, says: “There are two types of customers. One will be more traditional and insist on getting the diamond ring. The other is more creative and willing to explore alternatives to expressing their love.”
She also says those who want something unique to tell their story have more options and accessibility to a variety of gems and designs.
Associate professor Ang Swee Hoon, from the department of marketing at National University of Singapore Business School, says couples want their engagement to be special.
“Generally, non-diamond gems are cheaper than diamonds. Therefore, couples can buy bigger pieces to make their engagement ring more outstanding,” she says.
Secondary school teacher Laura Or, 27, wanted something “less common” and received a gold band with a large pearl at the centre with three smaller rubies on each side from her fiance Joshua Ang, 29, when he proposed two months ago.
“I specifically told him I didn’t want a diamond. I said I wanted the band to be gold and I want the stone to have colour. I think a diamond is boring.” Her ring cost about $3,000.
However, fashion director Wang Titien decided it was best to stick to convention when he proposed to his girlfriend in July 2015.
The 27-year-old, who bought a 0.85-carat solitaire diamond engagement ring from Tiffany & Co, thought the ring should be something classic. It cost him $12,000.”The diamond engagement ring is a tradition. I feel it is more sincere than just any other ring. I didn’t think of getting anything else.”
SAYING YES TO A GREEN TOURMALINE GEM
Photo: Ong Wee Jin for The Straits Times
Unlike most conventional brides- to-be, civil servant Michelle Tan has never dreamt of receiving a diamond engagement ring.
The 30-year-old says she never saw the need for one.
“I’ve always wanted something a bit more interesting. As my favourite colour is green I imagined myself being presented with a green stone.”
She is married to software engineering manager Steve Tan, also 30, and they now have a six-month- old son, Ryan.
“I told Steve that I did not want a diamond. Apart from the higher cost, I also read a lot of articles that said the value of diamonds aren’t actually that high. They depreciate after you buy them.”
Her ring, a gold band with a pale green tourmaline, cost about $3,500.
For Mr Tan, the priority was to make sure the ring reflected his wife’s style.
He says: “I knew she wanted a green rock and a gold band. I knew also that she wanted something in a more earthly style, so her ring has a small leaf pattern.”
He had the ring custom-made at local handcrafted jewellery company More Than Diamonds, which has a showroom in Tudor Court in Tanglin Road. The couple went back to the jeweller for their gold wedding bands, which cost $2,800 a pair.
Mr Tan says he is not a fan of diamond rings as they are not practical. “Once you buy a diamond ring, 50 per cent of the value is gone.”
He explains that other precious metals or gems retain their value better or appreciate with time.
The couple met through a mutual friend in 2012, were engaged in 2013 and married in 2014.
Asked about what they thought of the notion that a man should spend double or triple his salary on an engagement ring, Mrs Tan says she does not believe that it should be such a lavish expenditure.
“Money can be better used. To me, saving for a house, for the education of our children, these are more important.”
She spent $400 on her custom- made wedding gown from a local tailor and bought her dinner gown for under $100 from British high- street label Miss Selfridge.
“The wedding lasts only a day, but the marriage is for a lifetime. So I would rather spend on that.”
AN ECO-FRIENDLY RING FOR $300
Photo: Chew Seng Kim for The Straits Times
While discussing their engagement, communications executive Evelyn Tien told her then-fiance she wanted a ring that cost less than $100 and was made out of an eco-friendly material.
“I wanted to give him a challenge,” says the bubbly 29-year-old, who is into recycling and tries her best to stick to green practices such as using fewer plastic bags and carrying a water bottle instead of buying disposable ones.
Explaining the small budget, Mrs Tien says she strongly believes in saving for the more important things in life, a view her husband, Mr Lang Tien, 33, a church ministry staff, shares.
She says: “We were about to commit financially to a lot of things, such as our new flat and the renovations… So we wanted to set aside money for that.”
Cost, say the couple, was not the issue. “We both had savings so if we wanted to, he could have easily bought a more expensive ring. It’s about the idea behind it,” she says.
Mr Tien ended up picking a simple ring shaped like a vine from American online artisanal jewellers.
The ring is made from recycled sterling silver and cost him about $300, inclusive of shipping.
Though he admits he “busted the budget”, he says he chose the design to match the couples’ wedding Bible verse – one that uses vines and branches to symbolise God’s relationship with Man. A wedding theme based on a Bible verse is common practice in Christian weddings.
Mrs Tien says she “was very impressed” that her husband found something so meaningful.
Asked why she did not want a diamond engagement ring, she says: “We think diamonds are overrated. We didn’t want to conform to society’s idea of what makes an engagement ring suitable.”
The couple, who were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend in 2011, say they were careful about how much they spent on their wedding as well.
After a year-long engagement, they got married in 2014 in a simple church ceremony followed by a lunch reception.
They had minimal decorations and the bride spent about $500 on her custom-made gown from a local dressmaker.
Mr Tien says: “For the wedding car, we drove my nine-year-old manual Nissan. My dad offered his Lexus, but I thought, we had more memories with the Nissan.”
“Most of the time, guests don’t remember what the reception decorations are or what the flowers look like and all those things cost so much money. I think guests remember, instead, whether the event was meaningful.”
Their wedding lunch reception in church cost about $10,000.
Their wedding bands, a mix of rose-gold and white-gold bands from Goldheart, cost $500 for two.
Mrs Tien says she did not feel peer pressure about her ring, although some friends did ask her to show them “the rock” when she told them she was engaged.
“They might have been surprised to see that there was none,” she says.
Though some might think that an engagement ring should cost three times a man’s salary, Mrs Tien says the couple have “chosen to measure love on a less tangible scale”.
She says: “Through dating, we developed healthy communication habits, conflict-resolution skills, patience, selflessness and respect for each other. These are things that we know will tide us through our marriage for a long time.
“For us, that was a greater show of love and security than any expensive ring could ever provide.”
DIAMONDS STILL THE SPARKLING CHOICE
Non-diamond engagement rings may be getting more popular, but the classic solitaire diamond ring is still the preferred choice of gem for that all-important proposal.
Major jewellers here say the demand for traditional diamond engagement rings has remained strong over the past few years, with the shift towards other gems not yet becoming mainstream.
Managing director of Tiffany & Co South-east Asia, Ms Chris Lui, says the timeless style of the diamond is part of its appeal.
She says: “The diamond will last a lifetime… The classic solitaire will never go out of style.”
At French luxury goods giant Cartier, diamond engagement rings are selling well at its Singapore stores.
Mr Gregoire Blanche, managing director, Cartier South-east Asia and Oceania, says an engagement ring not only lasts a lifetime, but may also be passed down over generations. “That’s why our clients tend towards classic diamond rings that transcend time and style.”
The promise of forever and the notion that a diamond must be present on an engagement band are concepts etched deeply in the minds of many a blushing bride and strapping groom. But these are concepts that took seed through a marketing campaign.
Diamond giant De Beers launched its first advertising campaign that linked diamonds with love and engagement in the 1930s.
Over the years, its campaigns featured happy couples with sparkling diamond rings. The association between everlasting love and the purchase of a diamond became popular over time.
De Beers is also responsible for stipulating that a man should spend double or triple the amount of his salary on a diamond ring.
One of its advertising campaigns in the 1980s, for instance, featured a woman with a diamond ring and the tagline: “Two months’ salary showed the future Mrs Smith what the future would be like.”
Soon, demand for diamond engagement rings skyrocketed.
According to news broadcaster the British Broadcasting Corporation, before the 1930s, about 10 per cent of engagement rings had diamonds. By the end of the 20th century, 80 per cent did.
In 1999, then chairman of De Beers, Mr Nicky Oppenheimer, admitted that “diamonds are intrinsically worthless, except for the deep psychological need they fill”.
To this day, the attainment of a diamond engagement ring remains ingrained in mainstream culture.
Human resources executive Joe Lim, 29, says that although the recent trend has been for people to go for non-diamond rings, he still wanted a more traditional ring. “I still believe a diamond has sentimental value that is suitable for a proposal. It is not about the price, but the elegance that the diamond communicates.”
He paid about $4,000 for a 0.23-carat diamond solitaire with a silver band from Cartier.
For public relations director Gidania Wong, 32, she says she did not expect anything other than a diamond engagement ring.
“My husband knows I’m more old-fashioned. I’ve always wanted the proposal on one knee, the white gown and long veil. Of course, I wanted a diamond ring.”
Her ring, with a 1.5-carat princess-cut diamond and diamond band, cost about $20,000 and was bought from her husband’s family jeweller.
But the mother of one, whose husband is a relationship manager at a bank, says she would still have said yes if she had not been presented with a diamond ring.
“The wedding is not determined by jewellery,” she says.
The original version of this story was published in The Straits Times on January 12, 2016.
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